As lockdown has shown, the workplace is so much more than just a place to work. It’s a melting pot and a shared space where company culture is crystallised.
A meeting place, a social space, a place to download, to collaborate and these days, quite often an escape from home!
The acronym WFH has become part of our everyday vocabulary. “Working From Home” is the new norm.
With an estimated 75% of employees wanting to continue to WFH, then companies need to rethink, remodel and repurpose their workspaces.
Time to rethink the workplace
The workplace has to carve out a new niche and offer something more to attract and retain its occupants. With an expected fall in workplace properties, this is good reason for companies who are reconsidering their property portfolios, to divert any divestment cost savings into quality over quantity.
Engagement, collaboration, productivity
The post-COVID period represents an opportunity – to improve the places we work – but much more than this, to use the workplace to become a better employer, to increase engagement, collaboration and productivity.
Let’s consider five trends we are likely to see in workplace design in the post-COVID era and three reasons why you should continue to invest in the workplace.
Workplace design must be centred around human need and our expectations have surely changed over the past six months. We have become accustomed to our home comforts, breaking away from online meetings to make a coffee or take a break on our favourite sofa.
The harsh environment of ‘all work and no play’ with banks of desks and meeting rooms, without any creature comforts, will no longer suffice.
Think more hotel than office in terms of design – shared lobby-style spaces and soft seating areas which encourage casual engagement.
Sleep pods or mediation spaces are becoming more commonplace and are no longer confined to more forward-thinking companies such as Google. They’ve known for a long time that a 20-minute power nap can improve learning and memory, prevent stress, boost creativity and increase productivity.
Office design will be inspired by the home aesthetic to make it more appealing and comfortable.
With social distancing measures in place, there is a strong risk that office working could become a solitary experience. This goes against the ethos of why people often prefer a shared place of work over WFH.
Simply alternating existing desks will create barriers that are too wide, with an adverse effect on human connection. You may as well work from home!
Clever design can ensure that we can all work together safely – it’s all about flexibility. Modular furniture or the use of other agile elements, such as bookshelves or tables, can help to create distance in a more user-friendly and subtle way.
Individual items of furniture may become larger in scale with wider and deeper dimensions. Modular furniture will help to address the need to adapt the space more frequently to meet ever-changing needs.
With social distancing, companies need to make use of every bit of available space, including any outdoor locations.
That tired old courtyard that everyone used to ignore? This is now prime real estate! Not only does it offer fresh air where it’s more difficult for viruses to spread, but fresh air is proven to help with our mental state.
The outdoors will no longer be the realm of the smokers, furtively tucked away under a less-than-desirable makeshift shelter, but it will become an integrated part of our workplace design.
Equally, we’ll be bringing the outdoors inside by introducing more and more greenery to our internal spaces. This help with air quality, and it also creates a more sustainable vibe and generates a sense of well-being.
Never has the need for human touch been more obvious. Many of us face a hybrid solution, with a combination of WFH and office working. Technology has proven that we can effectively work remotely in teams, so the office has to work harder than ever to prove its worth.
A Harvard Business Review report of 2019 cited that remote workers communicated nearly 80% less about their assignments that collocated team members did. It will be interesting to see if emerging research shows an improvement in this statistic since lockdown and the normalisation of remote working.
Collaborative space is what will make office working stand out from home working and help to pull people back.
It will no longer be about individual workstations or random hot desking, but rather project rooms where teams can come together in order to share their work.
Good design has the power to unleash information sharing and enable each individual to understand how their role fits into the bigger picture and contributes to project and company success.
We will need to address the more transient nature of the workplace through more flexible design. A wholesale return to work will not happen, rather there will be a phased return, with different shifts for different teams.
This reduces the attractiveness and cost-effectiveness of dedicated personal workstations that would only ever be used part of the time by any one individual. Instead, we will see a greater focus on agile environments that can serve multiple purposes.
Along with more collaborative spaces, there will be a need for more temporary structures that can be easily be moved and transported. Office design will be about the short to medium term, rather than the long term. Temporary screens, flexible partitions, agile furniture will all play their part in the office of the post-COVID future.
Firstly, how do we find budget?
Of course, all of these changes come with a price. We can use savings in some areas to invest in quality over quantity.
Why should we invest?
Consider the cost of mental health. In the UK alone, it is estimated that the cost to business of poor mental health is a staggering £45 billion (Counting the Cost of Mental Health report, Feb 2020).
And with 38% of employees citing that they feel that lockdown has had a detrimental effect on their mental well-being (Working during lockdown: the impact of COVID-19 on productivity and wellbeing, Deloittes), we know that the workplace can help to support mental welfare and reduce these costs.
And what about mentoring and training? It’s not quite so easy to learn from others online. We do not want to lose a generation of training due to lack of face to face time.
3. Economic impact – ‘ghost towns’
The workplace is also an integral part of our cities’ eco-system. The economic impact of workers not coming into our cities is huge, with a domino effect on a whole host of suppliers, from sandwich bars to retailers.
The question is: can you afford to NOT invest in your workspaces?
We will show you five ways that you can quickly and cost-effectively adapt your workspaces for the post COVID world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to my sleep pod for a 20 minute power nap! 😀